Become a fan of h2g2
People think I listen to the Small Faces all day, every day. But they're wrong. That's only between ten and midday.
- Paul Weller
The Small Faces are one of those Great British Secrets - as allmusic.com describes them, they were 'the best English band never to hit it big in America.' Although The Who are seen by the general public as having been the main standard-bearers of the peculiar youth subculture that is the Mod movement, Mods both past and present1 continue to insist that the Small Faces were the ultimate Mod band. Unlike the Who, who became Mods on the orders of their publicist, the Small Faces were all Mods before they met. Their lead singer, Steve Marriott, is still regarded as one of the greatest white soul voices of all time, and they brought style and an irresistible sense of fun to popular music in the mid-1960s.
Though they were clearly one of the most extensively-cited names during the Britpop movement of the mid-1990s, mentioned by everyone from Oasis to Blur to (gulp) Menswear, their influence was felt throughout the 1970s (on Led Zeppelin, The Jam and, less obviously, the Sex Pistols2) and beyond.
All Our Yesterdays
Before he became Small Faces frontman, Steve Marriott had already enjoyed more than his share of the limelight - he'd busked in his native East End from a young age and as a child actor he'd played the Artful Dodger in the London stage version of Lionel Bart's musical Oliver!. He was, by all accounts, a lovable rogue, and was sent to Islington's Italia Conti stage school by his mother, Kay, after he'd set fire to his old school in Stratford. Marriott's first band, the Moonlights, recorded 'Give Her My Regards' for Decca in 1963. The song, inspired by the Shadows and Buddy Holly, failed, leaving Marriott free to concentrate on his film career.
In 1963, Marriott played a minor role in Heavens Above! alongside Peter Sellers, Eric Sykes, Irene Handl and Roy Kinnear, and featured more heavily in Live It Up, a beat film in which he played the part of Ricky, a Post Office messenger and a drummer in a band whose demo tape goes missing. Other stars of the film included David Hemmings, Joe Meek protégé (Meek provided the film's soundtrack) Heinz Burt and Crackerjack3 legend-to-be Peter Glaze. The famously hyperactive Marriott was tired of hanging around on film sets by the completion of the eerily similar follow-up Be My Guest, and so took on the role of harmonica player in the Andrew Oldham4 Orchestra. He formed the Frantics who released a version of the Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' in the US, and then made what he believed to be his last opportunity for pop stardom with a solo single, 'Tell Me'. Neither was a success.
Get Yourselves Together
It was while he was making ends meet working Saturdays in a Manor Park music shop that he was asked by bassist Ronnie Lane (who was looking for a Harmony bass guitar) to play with his band the Pioneers (featuring drummer Kenney Jones) at a show in Ilford. Lane's old band the Outcasts had played alongside Marriott's band the Moments at a gig the previous year in Rainham in Essex. Both were Mods and as such shared similar obsessions - namely smart clothes, American rhythm and blues (not to be confused with modern R&B) and frequenting clubs such as the Scene and the Flamingo in Central London. The gig was a complete disaster - Lane was drunk and Marriott destroyed the pub's piano - but a bond had been formed.
With Jimmy Winston on keyboards and 16-year-old Kenney Jones from Poplar on drums, they formed a tight unit. Initially they performed R&B standards such as Smokey Robinson's 'You Really Got a Hold on Me' and Ben E King's 'Stand By Me', but a couple of originals, 'E Too D' and 'Come on Children', made it into the set. Since the members were all of diminutive stature and were prominent, highly-regarded figures (or 'faces') on the mod scene, they called themselves the Small Faces.
While playing an afternoon gig at the Starlight Rooms in Oxford Street they came to the attention of a young Elkie Brooks, who alerted club owner Maurice King, who became their manager. His first move was to book them at a Sheffield working men's club. The gig was a real disaster, but, in one of the fairytale moments that seemed to characterise their early careers, they crossed the road to find the Mojo, the local Mod club, where the band played for nothing but brought the house down. The band drove back to London with renewed morale.
After a series of dead-end jobs the quartet decided to turn professional, taking on a residency at the Cavern in Leicester Square. Early supporters included Sonny and Cher and Mick Jagger. The Who's manager, Kit Lambert, tried to signed them but they were eventually 'stolen' from Maurice King by Don Arden5, who got them their first single release, 'What'cha Gonna Do About It', written by Ian Samwell, which borrowed rather heavily from Solomon Burke's 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love' and reached number 14 in the British charts in August, 1965.
A second single, 'I've Got Mine', written by the band, got good reviews but failed to chart in November, though the band got to perform it in a film, Dateline Diamonds. An appearance on television programme Thank Your Lucky Stars spelled an end to Winston's tenure on keyboards - the rest of the band felt he was trying to grab too much attention with his elaborate performance, though they parted on good terms. He was replaced on keyboards by Ian McLagan of Boz and the Boz People (and the Muleskinners, who'd actually released an unsuccessful single, 'Back Door Man' for Fontana in early 1965). The official reason given for his immediate acceptance by the band is that he was the same height as the other members, though McLagan explains:
...when Steve saw me, and I came round the door, he just laughed, and I laughed at him too, because we were all the same height. They were all no taller than 5'6"... I think it was meant that we were supposed to be together, the four of us. It was quite magic.6
The band - who were by now gathering quite a following - all moved into 22 Westmoreland Terrace, a Georgian house in Pimlico, on the evening of Christmas Day, 1965. Though Kenney Jones refused to leave his parents just yet, he played along for the photo-shoots for teen magazines such as Fab 208, which showed them all opening Christmas presents together and so on.
The group returned to the charts in the February of 1966 with 'Sha-La-La-La-Lee', this rather uninspiring result of Arden's reluctance to chance the release of another Marriott/Lane composition (the song was written by Kenny Lynch and Mort Shuman) reached number three and got them a lot of attention from teen magazines, the major pop programmes of the day, and even US television. 'Hey Girl', a jaunty Marriott/Lane composition, followed in 1966 on the same day as the band's first LP.
The band's self-titled debut remains one of the best albums of arguably the best year in popular music: 12 months that saw the release of Revolver by the Beatles, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and Aftermath by the Rolling Stones. England had just won the World Cup and 'Swinging London' was at its peak. The album is a collection of energetic, mainly original, R&B numbers.
July, 1966 saw the release of 'All Or Nothing', the band's first number one. By now the level of hysteria surrounding the Small Faces could reach alarming levels, and their schedule was punishing; at one stage Marriott collapsed from nervous exhaustion and had to be rested. They were to be spared a trek across the US, though - ostensibly due to Marriott's lack of confidence, but in reality due to a cannabis conviction Ian McLagan had acquired while in the Muleskinners.
However, it had started to become obvious that the band weren't seeing much of the money they'd undoubtedly generated through their huge success. The parents of the band members confronted Arden and he told them that the money had all been spent on the various members' drug habits. It was a lie; the band managed to reassure their parents but the incident upset all of them.
From the Beginning
The band had been moving away from their R&B roots towards more psychedelic sounds for some time, but, thanks to Arden (the band believed), the music they'd recorded throughout 1966 didn't appear until the delayed second album finally emerged in summer, 1967. From the Beginning comprises four of the band's singles and the blues influence is still strong, as evidenced by the cover of 'You Really Got a Hold on Me', but the band's influences were becoming more diverse. In November, 1967, a single called 'My Mind's Eye' was released, infuriating the band who had sent it to Arden as a demo. This was the final straw.
Although the band had been hugely successful, they were being exploited by Arden, who was known to make the young, naïve band play three shows a night. They had gone with what appeared to be the largest amount of money, swayed by the notion of recording for the same label as the Rolling Stones. But though the £20-a-week deal seemed generous at the time, certainly alongside accounts at every clothes shop in Carnaby Street7, it wasn't until much later that the true, tragic nature of the contract they'd signed was to become apparent. The money was being deducted from their gig earnings and, for all their massive success, they received little apart from the weekly wage. This was to be the first financial rip-off they fell prey to, creating a state of affairs that was not rectified until after the deaths of Marriott and Lane.
By the end of 1966 they'd parted company with Arden and moved under the control of Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. In mid-1967 the band transferred to his label, Immediate, which gave them more recording time and a reduced touring schedule. This was immediately obvious in their new sound, as evidenced by 'Here Comes the Nice', a song about a drug dealer, which miraculously escaped censorship despite referring to speed (amphetamines). This was followed by the soulful rock epic 'Tin Soldier', one of the finest singles of the decade.
The First Immediate Album
Confusingly, a second eponymous album appeared in mid-1967. Small Faces is on the whole upbeat and joyous. The band's infectious sense of fun is apparent throughout - Marriott introduces Lane as 'Ronald "Leafy" Lane' and the band as 'the Darlings of Wapping Wharf Laundrette' (a moniker which was eventually adopted as the title of the leading Small Faces fanzine) on music-hall-influenced number 'All Our Yesterdays'; the drugs references come out again in 'Up the Wooden Hills to Bedfordshire' (though of course this is Cockney slang for 'going up the stairs to bed'); and a swinging instrumental, 'Happy Boys Happy', can harmoniously co-exist Lane's beautiful ballad 'Show Me the Way'.
The album was followed in August, 1967 by the release of 'Itchycoo Park', the band's only American hit. Although the single was the first British record to use phasing, the band were still frustrated that they weren't fully representing the experimental nature of their new material in their recorded output, and so they worked for five months (an age in 1968) on Ogden's Nut Gone Flake, the band's own concept album, in the wake of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Ogden's Nut Gone Flake
The band had hardly dropped all their former influences for Ogden's (the opening track is a psychedelic instrumental, and there are more Cockney singalongs, such as the risqué 'Rene'), but there was a lot more of the soulful, hard rock that was to be such a heavy influence on Led Zeppelin (most notably on 'Song of A Baker'). Professor of Unwinese, Stanley Unwin, spoke between the tracks of a character called 'Happiness Stan'. The album came in a round sleeve, in order to appear like a tobacco tin, and was performed as a whole just once, memorably live in the studio on the BBC's Colour Me Pop8.
Though the album was enthusiastically received by both press and public, the relationship with Immediate was starting to sour. Not only had the label offended Christians by promoting the album with an advertisement that included a parody of the Lord's Prayer (prompting an apology from the band), but the label went on to release 'Lazy Sunday', which Marriott had recorded as a joke. The single reached number two in the British charts but the band continued to resent the fact that their sound was being represented by what they saw as a novelty single.
Additionally, it seemed that the contract with Immediate was every bit as disastrous financially as the one with Decca had been. When the Rolling Stones split with Loog Oldham in mid-1967, the Small Faces became his focus. Although the Stones had remained with Decca throughout their time with Loog Oldham, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had provided songs for various Immediate acts. Now Marriott and Lane were being asked to do the same as well as acting as producers - which they may not have objected to had it not become obvious that once again, despite their immense popularity, they weren't seeing any royalties. Immediate was keeping the money by charging the band extortionate rates for their studio time. The band's chief source of income was now gigs. They were, in effect, funding the failure of other Immediate acts - and they were the only band on the label making any amount of money, despite the fact that Immediate had released a few hits by PP Arnold and the Nice. Additionally, Loog Oldham and his business partner Tony Calder wasted money and the Small Faces' royalties mysteriously disappeared for the next thirty years.
The band's next single, 'The Universal', released in summer, 1968, was experimental, acoustic and featured clarinet, but it failed to make the top twenty and Marriott's enthusiasm started to wane. They worked on a new album and carried on touring. Marriott tried to get his friend Peter Frampton9, formerly of the Herd, into the band, but the others rejected the idea. The band finally split at the very end of 1968, when Marriott suddenly exited the stage at Alexandra Palace during 'Lazy Sunday'. He promptly formed Humble Pie with Frampton.
The Autumn Stone
Following Marriott's departure, a double album, The Autumn Stone, was released on Immediate, but it was to be a retrospective of their whole career - there were to be no new recordings from the band with that line-up. The album included rare live tracks, the main recordings they made for Immediate, and several unreleased tracks, including the instrumental 'Wide Eyed Girl on the Wall' and 'Donkey Rides, A Penny, A Glass', which somehow manages to combine music hall and hard rock sensibilities.
The rest of the band replaced Marriott with two men (to take over both singing and guitar-playing duties) - Rod Stewart and Ron Wood - and recorded one album for Warner Brothers as the Small Faces before they became the massively-successful Faces.
The Small Faces reunited during the late 1970s and released Playmates and 78 in the Shade, but Lane got cold feet and his contribution was minimal. The albums flopped both critically and commercially.
What They Did Next
Steve Marriott's Humble Pie were a huge hit in the US, though not in the UK. They split in 1975 due to good old 'musical differences' and Marriott later formed Packet of Three. He seemed poised to make another comeback with Frampton when he died in a house fire, started by his own cigarette after he fell asleep, on 20 April, 1991. He was 46 years old.
Ronnie Lane made a series of solo albums and recorded with Pete Townshend, among others, but contracted multiple sclerosis in the late 1970s and this brought his career to an end. He made his home in Colorado and died on 6 June, 1997.
Kenney Jones became the drummer in the Who after Keith Moon's death in 1978.
Ian McLagan went on to perform with artists such as Bonnie Raitt, the Rolling Stones and, most recently, Billy Bragg. In 1998 he published his frank autobiography All the Rage. He now lives in the small town of Manor (pronounced 'Maynor') just outside Austin in Texas, and frequently plays at venues such as the Saxon Pub as Ian McLagan and the Bump Band.
All Or Nothing?
Employing a 'no win, no fee' solicitor, Jones and McLagan were finally able to secure royalty payments from Decca and Immediate (currently owned by Charly), though these date from only 1991 and 1997 respectively, and neither Marriott nor Lane lived to see any of the money. Additionally, Jones claims that a large amount of money in the form of music publishing rights is owed to the band.